Smith County Veterans Court to Add Felony Cases

ncgovAfter starting the Veterans Treatment Court for misdemeanor offenders, Smith County Veteran Services Officer Mike Roark is working to begin a program for some felony cases.

The purpose of the court is to work with veterans charged with certain offenses to get them necessary treatment for any mental health issues and to return them to being productive members of society.

Goals set for those going through the program include finding a job and securing their finances; and going to alcohol, drug or anger management meetings and treatment.

Three people have successfully completed the Veterans Treatment Court since the program for misdemeanor offenders began in 2015. One person has had their record expunged and one is going through the process, Roark said.

Six people are currently going through the program, which takes one to one and a half years to complete, and two will graduate in August. All of those going through the program have pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated offenses, Roark said.

To be eligible for the program, a veteran has to admit his guilt to a qualifying misdemeanor offense, and have a traumatic brain injury or a psychological disorder, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), related to their military service or a military sexual trauma. The crime committed cannot be a premeditated one.

Smith County Commissioners, the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System and the VA Regional Office in Waco signed a Memorandum of Understanding as to what services will be provided for the misdemeanor veterans court.

 The Smith County District Attorney’s Office has helped the Veteran Services Office, as well as the judges presiding over the cases, to plan and develop the programs.

The Veteran Services Office looks at the offenders on a case-by-case basis to see if they qualify for the program and to come up with a specific treatment plan, which could include treatment programs for substance abuse or PTSD.

“These people were never treated or were not treated properly,” Roark said of their mental conditions. “We are trying to get to the root cause of why they committed the crime.”

Roark said a lot of people do not qualify for the program. Those that do qualify have to prove the nexus between their crime and what they suffer from.

“Our main focus in this office is making sure they’re eligible and drawing up a treatment program for the person,” he said.

Assistant Veteran Services Officer Andrea Odom is the court coordinator for the Veterans Treatment Court and will handle both the misdemeanor and felony probationers.

The felony Veterans Treatment Court has already been approved by the Smith County Council of District Judges and Council of County Court-at-Law Judges. Roark said they are waiting for all of the necessary parties to sign the Memorandum of Understanding for it to get started.

Roark has researched and is modeling the felony court after Montgomery County’s program. It will be a two-year program. Participants will be required to report to the court at least twice a month in the beginning of their treatment plans. Eventually, the defendants will appear before a judge every 90 days for a status update, he said.

Misdemeanor offenders in the program report to Mrs. Odom up to three times a week. Upon successful completion of the program, which can last six months to two years, veterans can qualify to have their cases expunged from their criminal and arrest records, Roark said.

Felony probationers will be assigned to a probation officer with the Smith County Adult Probation Department. Either the probation officer or Mrs. Odom can make unannounced house calls and conduct random drug tests, Mrs. Odom said.

Felony offenses that will not be eligible for the program include murder, sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping, abuse of a child, elderly or disabled person or selling drugs, Roark said.

Roark said he believes his office could take up to 10 to 15 people in the misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court, presided over by County Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Randall Rogers, or five to 10 people in the felony Veterans Treatment Court, which will be presided over by 114th District Judge Christi Kennedy.

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